Can We Have It All?

courtesy: todaysparent.com

Recently, The Atlantic published an article entitled Why Women Still Can’t Have It All by Anne-Marie Slaughter.

It was a very honest view of the constraints put upon women who want to excel in their careers and be  active mothers in the lives of their children.  The conclusion? It’s impossible.

The author writes of a fulfilling and highly demanding career in the White House and the continued feelings of failure she experienced because her adolescent son was experiencing trouble at school.  She notes that most women do what they can to spend as many of the toddler years as possible with their children and sacrifice the teenage years for their careers.

This reminded me of something a colleague of mine said to me not too long ago: children need their parents just as much, if not more, when they are in their teens.  It is a highly volatile time for a child and that is when parental love, guidance and support is most crucial.  It is also when we decide that they are independent and can fend for themselves.  Surely they don’t need mommy to feed them, clothe them or take them to the potty.  So mommy can go back to work in over-drive!  When the children are young, career is sacrificed and when the children grow, they are sacrificed.

Slaughter was criticized for her decision to sacrifice her career for her adolescent children; it rings so very anti-feminist.    Except, is it?  We do not live in a society that favours and supports raising children – I mean truly raising them.  Even for us Canadians who have the privilege of a one year maternity leave, we are left a little disoriented at the end of that year in the scramble to find adequate (and, affordable – though the two never seem to align) childcare when it is time to return to work.

Once at work, there is the negotiation of time, work-from-home options, the endless sick days we take for our children…and, that’s if we’re lucky to work in an environment that supports family.  Some careers demand our full attention and children and family are dropped from the priority list.

Slaughter calls for the beginning of a new dialogue.  One that involves looking at the needs of modern women who wish to engage in a thriving career and have a family.  This dialogue demands that women become outspoken and promote change at the legal level to ensure that the needs of children are being met without any sacrifice of career and that the needs of women are being met without the sacrifice of her children.  If it was possible for the feminist movement to exact great change in the lives of women 40-50 years ago, then it is possible for us to reopen the dialogue and exact change in the lives of women again.

I loved the honesty of her writing and the passion she has for promoting the interests of women and family.

Do you believe women can have it all now?  Or, do changes need to be made in economic, social and legal structures to allow us to have it all?

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12 thoughts on “Can We Have It All?

  1. I get uncomfortable with the ‘have it all’ concept, on the surface it seems very self-centred and greedy. At the same time, we should be concerned with the needs of families and communities. The question then becomes, can we/do we have all we need? And, how many of our wants can we also have?

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    • True – the dialogue is definitely extensive. I think serving the needs of children is a good way to open the discussion. Naturally, it becomes difficult because we all perceive wants and needs differently. It is worthy of bringing to light if it means improving society as a whole. Thanks for commenting!

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  2. Ooo, always an emotive one this. My belief is that it’s about families having it all. There is a lot of talk about the woman, her career, her children – but what about the bloke in all this? I think that for equality to truly happen, men and women together should be able to have the option to share the load. This mean legislation to allow both mum and dad to opt for leave to look after a new baby. When a woman is pregnant and going for a new job, what does she do? Tell them? But how about a man going for the same job whose wife is pregnant? He can tell them – and it won’t affect him at all because he is not expected to look after the baby. Until legislation changes, there is no level playing field. This mean no one can have it all, not the mothers, fathers, employers – or children. Blimey, looks like I feel strongly on this one! Great post.

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    • Thank you. You’re right. My husband had 4 days of paternity leave when our son was born – they couldn’t even give him a whole week! Yes, I believe that by putting a family’s needs at the forefront, everyone’s needs will be addressed. Flex hours, on-site day care, work-from-home options are all viable ways for both men and women to juggle the career/family balance. Thanks for the response!

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  3. I would tend to agree with Slaughter, but I can only base that on my own experience. My daughter is just about to turn 6, and I had a “career” in the music industry for quite a long time. For me, the needs of artists and managers seemed so meager compared to my daughter’s, and I essentially lost interest in my job. I did, I admit, love to be away from home for hours, and I had the luxury of knowing my little girl was with her father for most of those hours. I got to read books on the train and have lunch with friends when I wanted to.

    But as she grew, I knew she needed me and I needed her as well. The label closed, and I was let go last August, and apart from temping, I’ve been home. I love it, and if there’s any way we can swing this financially, I’ll be staying here for the long run.

    I see other moms who work and do the PTA things and run big productions for the school, and I admire that drive. I don’t have it. Maybe it’s because I’m older (let’s say mid forties!) but I truly think it’s the way a person is built.

    I love your blog and will be back often!!!

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    • Thank you so much! I am an “older mom” too – late thirties, my son is 3. I have a great career in education and I know I would be much farther and doing greater things career-wise had I decided not to have children. My son changed my perspective and completely floored me. I like having the flexibility to be at home and have a career – but I always feel torn between the two especially when I see my husband so involved in his career. Thanks for responding – it is such a worthy conversation…if anything, we know we are not alone in our struggle to balance family and career.

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  4. I read this article too, and I agree with all/most of her points. The fact is the improvement in technology should help women and men be able to multi-task more. However, this is the case only in certain industries/companies. I do believe that times are changing though.

    When I had my daughter 6 years ago, I worked on a company issued desktop. Work from home was not encouraged. I struggled for a couple of years and then moved companies (2) until I found one that accommodated my family’s needs as well as my own ambitions.

    Now for my 6-month son, I have a laptop, I work from home once a day every week, and work limited hours at the office. Things are much better but they could be even better still. I really envy the Canadian system of 1 year maternity – here, we get 3 months, and the rest is just cobbled together from left over sick-leave, and stuff like that. Extra paternity leave for men is also a great idea.

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    • You’re right that challenges differ across industries and countries. Yet, our experiences as women are so similar. It is important for employers to note the needs of both men and women – it’ll ultimately improve the situation for everyone. It is a compelling article, particularly where Slaughter notes to opinions of women who are 60, 70, 80 yrs old. But, times have changed…thanks so much for responding!

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  6. A very interesting post Karen especially for a first time Mommy like myself, who has just entered the world of motherhood not long ago. I think when AJ was born, my whole perspective about life, things I want for myself and even career completely changed. Somehow, I just stopped thinking about myself and every decision that I would make or want to make, AJ is on the priority list right at the top. I do support women who go back to work and would like to progress their careers since at the end of the day, they have families to support and everyday needs to be met. I still definitely want to go back to work, but right now I held that idea inside of me and just focus on my boy. And about the crucial moment of children being in their teens, and needing more love and attention, I can definitely agree to that. I was once in this position almost 10 years ago now, where both my parents worked full time, and since I also worked part-time while at college, it was almost impossible to see them or even have one of those long conversations with them. Of course, I understood that they were doing their jobs for the family, but this eventually put a gap between us, and I’ve learned to be more independent and just dealt with the fact that they couldn’t always be there for me when I needed them. It’s a harsh reality, but it is what it is.
    So now that I have AJ, I want to do my best to not let that gap exists between AJ and I.
    On a brighter note though, that gap I had my parents back then, has now gotten smaller, if not completely vanished when AJ was born. Somehow, him being born into this world brought us closer than ever as a family.

    Thanks for this post Karen since I’m also able to share a little bit of my experience before and now.

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    • You’re welcome and thanks for the honest response! I stayed home with Dylan for 18 months and then returned to work part time. He’s almost 3 1/2, and I’m just going to back full time. I’m luck in that I’m a teacher – I can be home with him by 3:30 and we have lots of time at Christmas and summer…you are right though. Every decision I make is with his best interest at heart. I just think I waited a long time to become a mother – and I loved every second of my life. I want to do this mothering thing as best I can – I have no regrets in putting my career on hold to make sure he gets the best start. I’ll do it again if I am blessed with a second child. It is difficult though when you are in a career that is demanding and leaves no room for family. I’m glad you enjoyed the post.

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